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Police fund draining Springfield savings

December 15, 2010 - The world probably won't end in 2012, but it may for Springfield Township's budget, at least its reserve funds.

"If property values continue to decline and services are maintained, next year we're going to be in serious trouble," said Treasurer Jamie Dubre.

"The budget is created based on property value at the time. If it falls, we have to adjust somewhere," said Trustee Dennis Vallad. "How do we distribute money in the pot? We have to establish priorities – 2011 is OK; 2012 starts to get a little sticky."

The township board approved the 2011 proposed budget over a couple "no" votes by the Supervisor Mike Trout, voting against his own budget.

The votes, against the General Fund and Parks and Recreation Fund, were based on principle, Trout said.

"Our highest priority is public safety, police and fire," he said. "The main reason I'm concerned is the general fund budget."

Property tax revenue for the 2009 general fund, which pays for general government services, was $682,876, falling to $646,270 in 2010. Revenue for 2011 is expected to be $570,000, a 16.5 percent drop. The total general fund is $1.8 million.

The township board's goal has been prudent reserves, enough for nine months of operations – about 75 percent of the total budget, Trout said.

"We've been pretty consistent, a general fund reserve of $1.2 million-$1.5 million," he said.

With declining property tax revenue and growing transfers to the police fund, the general fund balance is expected to shrink from $1.4 million in 2010, 64 percent of the budget, to $1.3 million in 2011, 70 percent; $1.0 million in 2012, 53 percent; and $0.5 million in 2013, 24 percent.

"I have no comfort level with this path," Trout said. "I'm not certain the public will support a police millage. We can't make budgets based on maybes."

The budget includes several fund transfers to support the $1.6 million Police Fund, including $75,000 in state-share revenue originally intended for the general fund, and $16,000 in cable franchise fees.

"Public safety is our most important priority," Trout said. "Revenue is declining – we supplement that with allocations from fund reserves."

By 2012, the township will have to ask for a police millage increase, use up its fund balances, and/or reduce services, he said.

"We have to do something about police," Vallad said. "Police is important – that's why we dedicated some reserves from the general fund. But it's not sustainable."

The police fund does not generate enough revenue to cover expenses, Dubre said.

"We need to take a hard look at police services," she said. "The police millage does not bring in enough revenue to cover the contract (with Oakland County Sheriff's Office) – it's depleting the fund balance. We need a millage increase, cut from the contract, or cut from the general fund."

"The challenge for this year was reduced income while providing the same services to our residents," Hensler said. "Our police fund will not be able to sustain itself in 2012-2013 and that is an area of great concern."

After six special budget workshops, August-October, Vallad said he was surprised by Trout's votes.

"I thought we had come to a consensus," he said. "I'm disappointed with the votes. If he wanted to vote no, at least he could have explained it."

Clerk Laura Moreau agreed.

"I was certainly surprised – I didn't expect the supervisor to vote no," Moreau said.

Trustee Judy Hensler said she was disappointed the board could not present a united front.

"I thought we were all on the same page regarding parks and rec following the last budget meeting," Hensler said.

Dubre was not surprised with Trout's "no" votes.

"He didn't agree at all at the workshops," she said. "When we discussed allocation to parks and recreation, he was in the minority."

Parks and recreation requested $130,000 from the general fund for resurfacing of parking lots, and basketball and tennis courts, playground equipment, and other park improvement projects.

"The board reduced that number to $85,000 and I believed we were all in agreement," she said.

Voters said they support parks, so it's right for the township to take some reserves and put them into park-improvement projects, Vallad said.

"Some of these projects have been deferred over the years – they're well needed," he said. "We had a lot of discussion on how much to fund, and it was a decision of the board to reduce that to specific projects."

Trout said the $85,000 transfer is still too much, especially with voters' approval of a .75 millage for parks and recreation.

"Parks are important – I voted for the park millage," Trout said. "But I'm concerned with the budget."

The millage is expected to bring in $428,500, increasing revenues from $565,000 in 2010 to $671,000 in 2011.

"That should be sufficient to do what they want to do, but they have asked for additional funds – we agreed on $85,000," Trout said. "Resurfacing tennis courts and basketball courts at the Hart Community Center – it's important, but I'm not sure it's something we can afford to do. That's why I voted the way I did."

The parks and rec millage relieves pressure off the general fund, but Hensler said its support is still needed.

"The added funds the first year of the millage will allow parks to clean up some deferred maintenance," she said. "The township board voted to fund some capital projects which will directly benefit the residents."

They never intended to "abandon parks and recreation and cut off all funding," Moreau said.

"It's possible the board will not be able to contribute to parks and rec capital projects after 2011, but the board determined it was important to help fund projects that will directly benefit our residents during the first year of the millage," she said.

Dubre was frustrated with the budget workshops.

"Something new would always come up – it made it a lot harder to get to the final draft," she said. "Next time, I recommend laying out all the issues early on."

She, Trout, and Vallad also met as the Budget and Finance Committee.

"We've been talking about the budget since the beginning of the year," she said. "I think we did a good job – very conservative with revenue and cautious with expenditures. But the outlook is pretty bleak."

Hensler said the budget meetings were helpful and informative.

"It provided a great forum for everyone to express their thoughts and ideas," she said. "As the newest trustee, it allowed me to further understand the budget and the budget process."

Police fund estimates project to drop from $1.5 million in 2010 to $1.25 million in 2011, and $1.14 million the next year.

As police millage revenue decreases, general fund contribution to the police fund is expected to grow from $180,000 to $385,000 by 2013.

"Fund balances are reduced as much as we can – by 2013, there's no more fund balance," Trout said.

"We're at the bare minimum," Dubre said. "We'll definitely have to do something. There will definitely be a shortfall."

Fund budgets include:

General fund, $1.8 million;

Fire, $730,565;

Police, $1.6 million;

Parks and recreation,$670,656;

Lake improvement, $299,000;

Softwater Lake Improvement, $15,000;

Cable, $122,450;

Building department, $64,950;

Civic center debt fund, $374,000;and

Softwater sewer fund, $130,000.

For more information, call 248-846-6500.

Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.
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